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Google reportedly facing FTC fine over Mobile Safari tracking bug

Posted: , by Scott H.

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Google reportedly facing FTC fine over Mobile Safari tracking bug
Bloomberg is reporting that a “person familiar with the matter” has indicated that Google is currently in negotiations with the Federal Trade Commission over the size of fine they will pay for their accidental breach of Mobile Safari’s privacy settings earlier this year. According to their source the fine could exceed $10 million.

As we wrote in February, to some degree the severity of this “scandal” has been overblown. The Wall Street Journal article that broke the story seemed over-hyped, and really honed in on Google itself, despite the fact that they were using the same persistent log-in technique that Facebook and most everyone else uses. And Google’s AdSense tracking wasn’t unique either – several different companies had advertisement cookies slip through as a result of a bug in Safari that made it easy for tracking cookies to gain access to a browser once a log-in cookie had been given permission.

That’s not to say that Google shouldn't be be investigated – they are essentially on probation with the FTC after settling over a privacy issue related to street-view cars accidentally storing private data broadcast over unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Much like with the Safari tracking bug there’s no evidence of malfeasance on Google’s part, but that doesn’t mean the FTC shouldn’t hold them to a high standard. Large tech companies play such a crucial role in our digital lives that that Google, Apple, Microsoft, and every other major player must be held accountable for privacy violations, even in the case of preventable accidents.

That said, what has been reported about the FTC's investigation feels a bit one-sided and incongruous – are any other advertising companies whose cookies piggy-backed in with sign-in cookies being investigated for “breaching” Safari's privacy settings? And if this accidental gathering of non-identifiable data is such a huge deal, shouldn’t Apple share some culpability for having allowed the bug to remain for so long? Holding Google accountable is for their actions is certainly a laudable goal, but applying a double standard isn’t.

Not surprisingly the FTC has refused to comment on the Bloomberg report. And in all honestly a $10 million fine isn’t going to break the bank for Google. But we hope the investigation is thorough, and that blame is meted out fairly rather than piling on one company just because it's politically expedient to do so.

source: Bloomberg via The Verge

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posted on 04 May 2012, 15:37

1. 9_HeLLs_oF_DrOid (Posts: 127; Member since: 02 Jan 2012)

" shouldn’t Apple share some culpability for
having allowed the bug to remain for so long?"

No, because consumers (and Google) must be using Mobile Safari wrong.

posted on 04 May 2012, 15:49 3

2. downphoenix (Posts: 3165; Member since: 19 Jun 2010)

Apple is the one that should be sued. Google didnt intently exploit the bug, but Apple did intently ignore it for so long.

posted on 04 May 2012, 16:03

3. gwuhua1984 (Posts: 1237; Member since: 06 Mar 2012)

If Apple should be sued for allowing it, they won't be sued by the FTC, but by the end users because Apple allowed the bug to remain which made the user privacy vulnerable.

posted on 04 May 2012, 16:28 1

4. taco50 (banned) (Posts: 5506; Member since: 08 Oct 2009)

Wow google intentionally bypassed Safari's privacy features and you think Apple should be sued?

That's like someone breaks into my home and robs me and it's my fault because I didn't prevent it.

posted on 04 May 2012, 16:58 4

6. protozeloz (Posts: 5396; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)

Well of you leave the door open...... Also if it's the issue I recall Facebook and others where doing the same

posted on 04 May 2012, 17:36 4

9. Scott_H (Posts: 167; Member since: 28 Oct 2011)

You totally missed the point - they DIDN'T intentionally bypass it. It was a bug in Safari where once a sign-in cookie is accepted (e.g. by Facebook or Google+) then any other cookie could piggy back on top of it. So lots of advertising cookies from lots of companies were tracking behavior of lots of people who used Facebook, Google+, etc. The only thing sin Google committed is that they happen to use both sign-in cookies and advertising cookies (but from two totally separate parts of their company).

posted on 04 May 2012, 21:21 4

14. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)

to fit your analogy

You would have to leave your door open for over a year, let other people come in and do as they please, and then when you see Google enter.. aw heck, we will substitute google.. for.. ME.
So for over a year you let people come into your house as they please and take things they shouldnt. You know you should close the door, but you never do. Eventually I come into your house.. knowing that we dont get a long, you call the cops on me and try to have me arrested, yet you willfully ignore the fact that you have been well known to leave the door open and let everyone else take stuff. you also try to ignore the fact that you never closed the door like you should have and only close it AFTER the media comes and asks you questions about my arrest.

So in that situation, am I the ONLY party to blame? What about all the other people that came in? What about you for knowingly leaving the door open and watching everyone take your stuff? Thats an open invite.

Apple KNEW about this exploit for like a year and did nothing while dozens of other major companies used the same exploit. Its a simple exploit, they were making the +1 button work.. thats it. They were not stealing anything from Apple or users. Have you ever clicked the +1 button for facebook/G+/ or a dozen other services? you used the exploit!

posted on 06 May 2012, 08:53

18. mrochester (unregistered)

Maybe Google should just have played it safe and not utilitised the exploit to begin with, then they wouldn't have got their fingers burned?

posted on 04 May 2012, 16:33

5. taco50 (banned) (Posts: 5506; Member since: 08 Oct 2009)

This is just one of the many scandals surrounding google and privacy. The other one in the news now is where they were driving around harvesting people's wireless data and then tried to block the investigation.

It goes to my point in the previous article that I would not trust google with my data.

To the author there was evidence of ill intent when they were collecting people's wifi data.

posted on 04 May 2012, 17:30 5

7. Whateverman (Posts: 3284; Member since: 17 May 2009)

Although some of what you said is true, it's important to remember a few things;

1. Google didn't intend to collect this data.
2. The data was collected from unprotected wifi networks. Those with password protection on the networks were safe.
3. The data collected was in very small portions because the cars were constantly on the move.
4. The data was erased by Google with a third party present.

posted on 04 May 2012, 17:31 5

8. Scott_H (Posts: 167; Member since: 28 Oct 2011)

Sorry Taco, that's just not true. Google was collecting information on the location of Wi-Fi networks for navigation purposes - same information Skyhook or most any other navigation service uses. There was an error where data on unsecured networks (which ought to be password protected anyways) was being caught in snippits. The data was never transcribed into a readable format, it was Google who came forward when they discovered what had happened, and the FTC found they had not broken the law. What they did find was that Google was not fully cooperative with answering all of their personnel questions (for much the same reason as Apple not wanting Steve Jobs testimony to be made available to musicians) so they fined them $25,000 for being uncooperative.

Other "scandals" like their recent privacy policy changes are basically made up by people who simply don't understand what the policy says, or that Google was just playing catch up to what Faceboook, Microsoft, and Apple had already been doing for years.

To be sure, Google has made some flubs and poor choices (/cough Google Buzz) but there has never been serious evidence of malfeasance.

posted on 04 May 2012, 18:25 3

11. Non_Sequitur (Posts: 1111; Member since: 16 Mar 2012)

Thank you for proving taco wrong when I'm not here to do it.

posted on 04 May 2012, 18:58 3

12. dallas90733 (Posts: 36; Member since: 06 Mar 2011)

Okay Scott,

Give my bud Taco a break, he's 0 for 4 today on his facts, rough day...hahahahah

posted on 04 May 2012, 21:23 2

15. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)

i think the second number is a bit higher than that :)

posted on 04 May 2012, 21:13 2

13. maxican16 (Posts: 364; Member since: 29 Sep 2011)

you're so brain washed, biased and fanatical about apple that I pity anyone who takes you seriously.

posted on 04 May 2012, 18:01 2

10. CivicSi89 (Posts: 349; Member since: 23 Jul 2011)

And in other news. "IM SEXY AND I KNOW IT!"

posted on 04 May 2012, 21:23 1

16. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)

I work out!

posted on 05 May 2012, 00:39 1

17. CivicSi89 (Posts: 349; Member since: 23 Jul 2011)

Girl look at that body....

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